A bit of an alternative book review post, here. I’m off to Amsterdam with my partner soon for a few gorgeous spring days in May (top tip – most cities in Europe are at their nicest in May). We’ve been planning an itinerary for our trip with our Top 10 Amsterdam, DK EyeWitness Travel guidebook, and I realised that I haven’t been on a trip since 2007 without buying one of these!
Now, some people might be aghast at the idea of putting together a detailed travel itinerary, preferring instead to meander the cobbled streets of Europe getting lost and whiling away time in cafes and old bookshops. Now all that is lovely, and I wish I was a little more relaxed like that too, but I bear my badge as a holiday dictator with pride. I can’t imagine going abroad, setting foot in a brand new city and not having a clue where all the things I want to see are. And often with city breaks, your time is so limited. I’ve been known to drag my friends out of bed at 7am in the heat of mid-summer to get a head start in Barcelona, only to find everything shut and the streets deserted for another few hours.
Anyway, onto the Top 10 Guides. The layout of the guide is always the same. First, the guide lists the top ten sights in the city, with a double page spread for each attraction, with plenty of photographs. I’ve occasionally browsed other guidebooks but so many have no pictures and just long lists of hotels and restaurants. Really not that useful!
The guide then breaks the city down into quarters or districts, with the low down on the best bars, cafes, restaurants and attractions in each quarter. There’s also a street-smart section on safety tips and local customs, as well as my absolute favourite which are these detachable fold out maps. The maps are easy to read and highlight all the attractions and are cross referenced throughout the guide, too.
The other great thing about these guides is that they’re peppered with facts about the history and culture of the city. That way, you’re not just looking at a pretty building, you’re looking at a pretty building and understanding why it looks the way it does or what part it played in history. In addition to these guides, I always make sure to start any trip with a three or four hour walking tour on the first morning (ok, ok, even I’m starting to think I’m weird). The walk will get you your bearings and you know what parts of the city you really want to explore properly and which parts you can live without. The tour guides always have a few snippets of great local knowledge too, like which bars are the most authentic, or which restaurants the locals actually go to. The best walking tour I ever took was in Berlin, during a snow storm in December. The tour was 4 hours, and I was wearing suede wedge heeled boots! But our guide had so much knowledge and passion, I learnt so much more about Berlin than I ever could have if I’d just meandered around alone.
Anyway, I don’t want to preach! Holiday however you like, but if, like me, you’re a bit of a planner, these guides are fab, cheap and won’t take up much luggage space!